A teacher at the front of a class asks students questions at the vocational school in Tanzania
A teacher at the front of a class asks students questions at the vocational school in Tanzania. Jessica Turner for Anti-Slavery International

Questions about slavery

How old is Anti-Slavery International?

Anti-Slavery International has been working to end slavery for over 180 years – we are the world’s oldest human rights organisation. We have our roots in the first abolition movement that ended the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. We have carried our expertise into the 21st century, influencing anti-slavery laws and policies at international and national levels.

What does Anti-Slavery International actually do to end slavery?

Anti-Slavery International works across geographic areas where slavery is present, and together with our partners, we:

  • investigate and expose current cases of slavery
  • identify the best ways to stop these abuses
  • influence policymakers to take action
  • press for effective implementation of laws against slavery
  • support victims of slavery in their struggle for freedom
  • empower individuals and communities vulnerable to slavery to demand respect for their human rights and obtain protection
  • work with the private sector to identify and address slavery in global supply chains

What is your strategic approach to tackling slavery?

Our approach is comprehensive, tackling slavery as well as its root causes on both local and global levels.

We believe that slavery will end only if changes on all levels coincide: when people affected by slavery understand their rights, when societies and institutions adopt new social norms to reject slavery; and when governments and businesses provide and implement laws and policies to protect people from slavery.

We have our finger on the pulse of modern day slavery, constantly looking out for its new manifestations. We focus on geographic and thematic areas where we think we can make the most progress and which can have the biggest impact.

Which countries does Anti-Slavery International work in?

We are at the front line of modern slavery, currently working with 40 local partner organisations and communities in more than 20 countries, directly supporting over 115,200 people affected by slavery to claim their rights and take control of their lives. We currently have projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, including the UK.

Do you have offices overseas?

No; we work with a range of local organisations on the ground and regularly visit our project sites. This is critical to understanding the local situation and the specific approaches necessary to achieving sustainable change for the victims of slavery.

How is Anti-Slavery International funded?

We rely on donations from a range of individual and group supporters, and income from events and legacies. A significant part of our funding comes from institutional and statutory funders.

How do you set your priorities?

We agree these with our Trustees. Our members also have the opportunity to vote at the Annual General Meeting, which takes place in the Autumn. As a membership organisation, we greatly value the input of our members.

What is your impact and how do you measure it?

We self-assess our projects and programmes and also conduct third-party independent evaluations. The impact of our advocacy work is best measured by the implementation of new laws across the world.

Why are Anti-Slavery International better-placed to tackle modern slavery than any other organisation?

We are uniquely placed to recognise, understand and tackle modern forms of slavery. Since 1839, we have developed a strong reputation in advancing the political agenda on slavery through cutting-edge research, advocacy, campaigns and local interventions.

We are on the front line of the fight against modern slavery. Our work in partnership with local organisations is critical to understanding the local context and the specific approaches necessary to achieve sustainable change for the victims of slavery. We are often the first to identify new forms of slavery and its root causes. We are innovative and comprehensive in our approach.  Anti-Slavery’s innovative theory of change indicates that achieving a world free from slavery necessitates engagement both at global and grassroots levels.

Can you tell which brands use slavery or which products were produced by slavery? Does Anti-Slavery name and shame brands using slavery?

We don’t name and shame companies. Although some companies might be exposed for presence of slavery in their supply chains, Anti-Slavery tends not to comment on or condemn particular brands. Global supply chains are so complex that it is near certain that slavery can be found in a supply chain of every single company, and it is near impossible to guarantee a slavery free product.

However, that doesn’t mean the companies don’t have the obligation to proactively do whatever is possible to ensure slavery doesn’t enter their supply chain. We encourage consumers to use their consumer power to put pressure on companies to eradicate slavery from their supply chains, ask the question to their favourite brands – are they pro-active in identifying slavery in their supply chains? Are they addressing it? What are they doing to ensure good labour practices are being implemented and monitored?

Does Anti-Slavery encourage boycotts of brands or products?

We very rarely, if ever, join the calls to boycott specific companies or goods.

Boycotts can actually make the situation worse and undermine the economy of an already poor country. As well as hurting employers using slavery-like practices, they could also hurt those who are not exploiting their workers, and worsen the poverty that is one of the root causes of slavery.

However, we do call for a boycott of companies purchasing cotton from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In these particular cases of state-sponsored forced labour, the boycott is not going to make the situation worse for those affected by it.

Can you recommend any products that are slavery free?

Anti-Slavery International has a policy of non-endorsement. While we do work with businesses to advise them on how to assess the risk of slavery in their international supply chains, we do not endorse any products or services. Co-operation and relationships should not imply endorsement or preference of a particular business entity or its products or services.

What do you think about the claims by Caribbean countries for reparations for past slavery from Britain, France and Netherlands?

We believe the countries that exploited other countries for so long have a responsibility to help repair the damage caused to countries and communities affected by the slave trade.

Questions about slavery

Isn’t slavery a thing of the past?

Sadly, no. Slavery still exists today and Anti-Slavery International is committed to fighting its contemporary forms and manifestations until they are ended.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is exploitative labour that places one person in the control of another.

Slavery exists on a spectrum of exploitation and sometimes it is hard to establish a clear line to define what constitutes slavery. However, if a person is forced to carry out work for which they didn’t offer themselves voluntarily, and they are not free to leave, it is a case of slavery.

Someone is in slavery if they are:

  • forced to work – through mental or physical threat;
  • owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse;
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’;
  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement

Slavery can take many different forms, such as:

  • forced labour and bonded labour
  • human trafficking
  • descent-based slavery
  • worst forms of child labour
  • slavery in supply chains
  • forced and early marriage
  • the exploitation of migrant workers in conditions amounting to slavery

In which countries does slavery exist?

Slavery exists in every single country in the world. According to the Global Slavery Index, the countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. But slavery also exists in the West.

The UK government estimates that there are up around 13,000 people victims of slavery in the UK alone, usually trafficked into forced labour and sexual exploitation. UK nationals and Albania, Vietnam and Eriteria are the most common nationality of potential victims of trafficking in the UK.

Check Walk Free’s global estimates of forced labour

How big a problem is slavery compared to other development challenges?

Slavery is a hidden phenomenon so we can only rely on estimates. Figures estimate that almost 50 million people are in slavery today across the world.

The top barriers to the eradication of slavery are: strict hierarchical social structures and caste systems; poverty; discrimination against women and girls and lack of respect for children’s rights and development needs. We must create a world without the conditions for slavery and labour exploitation to flourish – only then can we eradicate slavery.

Is it possible to end slavery in all its forms, all around the world? If so, when do you realistically expect that to happen?

Slavery is a complex issue with complicated root causes such as discrimination, all sorts of vulnerabilities such as poverty, lack of education, lack of economic opportunities, migration status, the lack of rule of law and many others. It is not possible to talk about ending slavery without considering all those root causes, so putting a firm timeline is disingenuous.

Should there be a universal ban on child work?

Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child’s development appropriate to their age, helping children learn and develop particular skills that will benefit them and the rest of society. However, we should ensure that no work harms children and their chances of a proper education or a real childhood.

In the case of slavery, the child is denied their right to education, rest and recreation. They are subjected to extremely hazardous work in harmful conditions, putting their health, personal and social development, and even their lives, at risk. Many are forced into full-time work at a very early age. They are frequently made to work long hours for little or no pay. Many are subjected to verbal, physical, psychological and sexual abuse. A child in slavery is kept in the cycle of poverty.

Child slavery is defined by the 1956 Slavery Convention as a situation when parent or guardian hand over their child to another person with a view to the child’s exploitation.

For example, if a child works on the parents’ family farm instead of going to school, it’s child labour. But if parents hand over a child to be exploited in a factory, it is slavery.

Is child marriage slavery?

Although marriages involving children will not always amount to slavery, particularly between couples aged 16 to 18 years who are both consenting individuals, many will. Child marriage can be referred to as slavery, if one or more of the following elements are present:

  • If the child has not genuinely given their free and informed consent to enter the marriage;
  • If the child is subjected to control and a sense of “ownership” in the marriage itself, particularly through abuse and threats, and is exploited by being forced to undertake domestic chores within the marital home or labour outside it, and/or engage in non-consensual sexual relations;
  • If the child cannot realistically leave or end the marriage, leading potentially to a lifetime of slavery

Isn’t tackling slavery just about arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators?

Slavery is a very complex problem with root causes in poverty, discrimination and the lack of rule of law. When people are desperate to find an income they are vulnerable to being exploited, for example by accepting a job overseas and then being forced to work for little or no money in conditions they didn’t agree to, or by borrowing money and working to repay but without any control over the conditions or the debt.

If there are conditions perpetuating slavery, simply arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators isn’t going to solve the problem, especially when they are protected by bad laws, laws not being implemented or corrupt governments. Only if we address the underlying causes can we end slavery.

Can we not just buy people out of slavery?

No. In most cases, modern slavery isn’t defined any more as ownership of one person by another, but instead by an exploitative situation which a person cannot leave. Paying the perpetrators for freeing people they control would not only be morally wrong, but would also perpetuate the problem and make slavery even more profitable.

Questions about slavery in the UK

So slavery exists in the UK today?

Sadly, yes. There are around 13,000 people working in conditions amounting to slavery in the UK today.

I’ve heard of sex trafficking – what other forms of exploitation are happening in the UK?

Actually, the most prevalent form of modern slavery in the UK is forced labour, in which people are forced to work for others in harsh conditions or in criminal activities, often for little or no pay.

Labour exploitation in the UK exists in areas such as food processing, factories, construction, car wash, catering, agriculture and tarmacking, as well in private homes in domestic work. Other forms include forced criminality and organ harvesting.

What did the Modern Slavery Act achieve?

The Modern Slavery Act represents a solid start to the UK’s task of combatting modern-day slavery.

It is a decent step on the UK’s journey towards eradicating the worst forms of slavery in the UK but also around the world since companies trading in the UK and with a turnover of at least £36m need to deliver annual statements covering international supply chains.

The Act has done much to raise awareness of the issue of modern slavery and to identify and prosecute perpetrators of modern slavery. However, the Act does not go far enough. The UK needs more robust victim protection in place, allowing victims of trafficking to remain in the UK and get the support they need. Meanwhile, more training and additional resources are required for the police and other authorities to spot and identify modern-day slavery.

How can I identify that someone is in slavery and what should I do?

Slavery is often hidden and can be difficult to identify, but there are few signs which might mean that someone is in slavery. Someone in slavery might:

  • appear to be in the control of someone else and reluctant to interact with others
  • not have personal identification on them
  • have few personal belongings, wear the same clothes every day or wear unsuitable clothes for work
  • not be able to move around freely
  • be reluctant to talk to strangers or the authorities
  • appear frightened, withdrawn, or show signs of physical or psychological abuse
  • dropped off and collected for work always in the same way, especially at unusual times, i.e. very early or late at night

If you believe you spotted someone who might be in slavery, you can call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or fill out an online form, or you can simply call the police or Crimestoppers. Do not try to intervene on your own as it might make the situation of that person worse.

Supporting Anti-Slavery International

How can I support Anti-Slavery International?

We are all implicated in the webs of forced labour and it is difficult to remove ourselves from it. But it is dangerous to think of ourselves only as consumers. We need to think of ourselves as engaged citizens demanding actions from government.

However Anti-Slavery International also needs the financial support of supporters and engaged citizens from around the globe to continue exposing cases and campaigning against modern slavery in the 21st century.

We are a small organisation with limited resources but with big ambitions. Please help us create a world free from slavery by joining our movement:

  • Become a member: be a part of the change and ensure your voice is heard in the global movement against slavery.
  • Support us financially, whether you’re an individual, trust or foundation, or a corporate
  • Fundraise and campaign in your local community
  • Sign up to our newsletter and join our campaigns
  • Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and spread the word about our work
  • Read about more ways to support us and get in touch if you have questions

What will my money do?

Your money will be spent in our global projects fighting slavery around the world – from combatting descent-based slavery in Niger, to winning landmark convictions against slave owners in Mauritania, to empowering children in domestic slavery to stand up for their rights, to freeing migrant labourers out of bondage in brick kilns in India, to influencing major international laws against slavery, to lobbying the UK Government to be the world leader in fighting forms of modern-day slavery in the UK.

How do you spend my money?

Your money goes directly to helping people affected by slavery in the very communities where slavery still exists.

88 per cent of our expenditure goes directly to projects and campaigns. Only 10 per cent is spent on events and fundraising, and just 2 per cent on management and administration (2015-2016 accounts).